As we complete the 6th full year of Girls Gone Strong (founded in 2011!), I can’t help but reflect a bit, not just on the origins of Girls Gone Strong, but on my own story as well, and why being part of Girls Gone Strong means so much to me.
My story is not just one of a woman who was overweight at one point and lost it and felt better about herself. No. It goes much deeper than that.
You see, I’ve struggled with my self-esteem my entire life, regardless of my weight. I’ve been average, I’ve been heavy, and I’ve been lean, yet no matter my weight and level of body fat, it hasn’t been until the last couple of years that I’ve finally felt comfortable in my own skin.
A little background information:
I grew up in a single-parent household, and to say that money was tight is an understatement. My parents were both amazing parents. In fact, I couldn’t have hand-picked them better myself, but that doesn’t mean that things weren’t difficult at times.
When I was 7, my Mom went back to law school as a single mother of three girls, and we were all forced to grow up very fast.
As a third grader, I can remember field trips giving me horrible anxiety, because I didn’t want to see the look on my Mom’s face when I had to ask her for $5. Add to that the fact I already had years of “feeling fat” under my belt as a young gymnast, and that makes for one self-conscious little girl. In fifth grade, as fashion became increasingly important, I was desperate to hide the fact that I only had one pair of jeans.
The struggles continued as I made my way through middle school, where I had few friends, failed to make the cheerleading squad three times, and was often called “weird” for my strange sense of humor.
Then I got to high school.
I had developed physically almost overnight, I finally made the cheerleading squad, and I started highlighting my hair. All of a sudden everything changed. People liked me. They wanted to hang out with me. I had friends galore. And my “weird” sense of humor? It was suddenly “quirky” and even “charming.” While this might sound like a good thing, it quickly ingrained in me that how I looked was more important than who I was. Talk about a dangerous and unfortunate belief to hold at 13 years old.
Oh, I forgot to mention that I had also skipped a grade in Elementary School, which got me labeled the “weird, smart kid,” and positioned me to start high school just a month after my 13th birthday. These self-esteem issues — and the behaviors that came along with them — lasted throughout high school and most of college. I desperately sought approval and wanted to be liked.
I had always loved food, but I often turned to it for comfort, and by the middle of my junior year, I was 185 pounds, 34%+ body fat, and the most miserable I have ever felt in my own skin. It was then, in February of 2004 that I decided that I wanted to “get in shape,” and I haven’t looked back since.
Between 2004 and 2009, I competed in Figure competitions. I dabbled in Powerlifting. I was lean. I was strong. I was the fittest I had ever been in my life. In 2009, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s (autoimmune hypothyroidism), PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), and Adrenal Dysfunction, and felt exhausted, physically depressed, and completely out of control of my body and my health.
I remember at one point I had to give myself a “pep talk” in order to pull myself off the couch to get a glass of water. It was quite the roller coaster, but by 2012, I was feeling pretty good and pretty healthy again.
Then, on January 4th, 2012, my Dad died unexpectedly, and my world was flipped upside down. I had never experienced pain and grief like this before, and 2012 became a huge year of change for me. Just nine months after his death, I walked away from a six-year relationship and moved home to live with my Mom and Stepdad while I regrouped.
During this time, nutrition and training weren’t a priority for me, as I was expending most of my energy taking care of my mental and emotional health, not to mention I started suffering from debilitating back pain shortly after my Dad’s death.
My body weight climbed and by the beginning of 2013, I was back to 183.5 pounds, and I was enduring tons of scrutiny from the fitness community, both enthusiasts and my colleagues alike. I had experienced this in the past, but nothing quite this intense. The scrutiny was devastating, but it thickened my skin, and helped me learn to care less and less about what others thought of me.
Over the 18 months after my father’s death, I slowly regained the mental and emotional energy to focus on my training and nutrition again. Today I look and feel better than I have in a long time. I’ve discovered that when you love your body, treating it well, with intelligent exercise and sound nutrition, comes naturally.
No restricting and bingeing, no over-exercising, no more beating my body into submission. Just lots of good movement and nutrient-dense food with indulgent foods in moderation. While all of these ups and downs over the last 13 years have been incredibly hard, but they have also helped me realize my life’s work.
My life’s work is to help women discover all the possibilities for their lives and their bodies and providing evidence-based and body-positive tools to help them reach their goals, all while falling in love with themselves and their bodies in the process.
Why is this important to me? Because I have a feeling that you’ve been in my shoes to some degree.
I have a feeling that you may have struggled with your weight, size, or body fat level, and you’ve let those numbers dictate how you feel about yourself.
I have a feeling that you’ve looked at women who are naturally thin/lean/muscular/curvy (or whatever body type you desire) and thought, “It’s not fair!” and possibly even felt less “worthy” than them.
I have a feeling that you’ve wondered if you’ll ever get to a place where you love your body exactly as it is right now.
In fact, so many of us walk around feeling like we just aren’t good enough, and we expend so much time and energy ruminating on what we think we’re not, that we have no energy left to tell ourselves any differently. I am here to tell you that this just isn’t true.
I’m here to tell you that you’re worthy, you’re beautiful, and you’re enough just as you are…
…even if you want your body to look or perform differently than it does right now. In fact, recognizing these truths allows you to make changes from a place of love and compassion rather than hate and disdain.
This is a big part of what Girls Gone Strong is all about. It’s about sharing these truths with women everywhere, and helping them get to a place where they fall in love with themselves, regardless of where they are in their fitness journey.